Tamil Nadu’s new Finance Minister, Palanivel Thiagarajan, popularly known as PTR, stands out because of his exceptional qualifications. He spent 20 years abroad, has an MBA from MIT Sloan School of Management in the US and has worked for international investment corporations and banks. In addition, he belongs to a distinguished political dynasty of the state. But, PTR also tends to shoot off his mouth. He ruffled feathers in the establishment recently by describing celebrity yoga guru Jaggi Vasudev as a “publicity hound” and compounded it by later quoting an audit report suggesting that the guru’s foundation had usurped forest land. Chief Minister M K Stalin’s father, the late M Karunanidhi, had good ties with Jaggi, even though the DMK has atheist roots. While DMK sources insist that PTR and Stalin enjoy an amicable relationship and PTR has been given a free hand, for some reason, PTR has been relegated to 26th place in official precedence in the Cabinet, although conventionally, finance ministers rank No. 2 in the hierarchy. PTR recently got into a spat with Goa Transport Minister Mauvin Godinho. At the GST Council meeting, he tried to cut Godhino’s speech short arguing that a small state like Goa should not get the same weightage and time as Tamil Nadu. He also referred to Godhino as an “empty vessel”.
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar’s recent visit to the US was the first by a senior Indian official since Joe Biden took over as President. During his three days in Washington, Jaishankar met several important US officials, from the Defence Secretary to the Secretary of State and the Director of National Intelligence. But the noteworthy omissions in his itinerary were two Pravasis who have considerable influence in the new administration: US Vice President Kamala Harris and Democratic Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal. It is not known whether an appointment was sought from the Indian side. Harris’s niece had tweeted against the Indian government on the new farm laws and Jayapal in 2019 had sponsored a resolution in the US Congress urging the Indian government not to use force in Kashmir in containing protests over the abrogation of Article 370.
BJP’s Bengali Face
Union Minister Smriti Irani is likely to replace Kailash Vijayvargiya as the BJP in-charge of West Bengal. Irani proved her mettle as an organiser when she fought against Rahul Gandhi in his pocket-borough of Amethi in the last Lok Sabha polls and won. Not just a powerful orator, Irani also speaks fluent Bengali, since her mother is Bengali. After the Bengal results, most BJP leaders who campaigned there stopped mentioning the state in their tweets. Tourism Minister Prahlad Singh Patel was an exception, which puzzled some of his followers. Patel was triumphant since he was given charge of north Bengal’s 42 seats where the BJP won 25, despite poll campaigner Prashant Kishor and Mamata Banerjee’s best efforts to woo the tribal and Scheduled Caste voters of the region.
A Thumbs Down
Many in the BJP believe that Kailash Vijayvargiya’s controversial statements and “undignified” behaviour as the party in-charge for Bengal did not go down well with the state’s powerful bhadralok, with influence in several constituencies. Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh himself ran into several controversies with his statements, including advising Mamata Banerjee to wear “Bermuda shorts’’ after she appeared with a foot in bandage following an injury in Nandigram. Even though Banerjee herself is not a bhadralok favourite, they perceived her as the lesser of the two evils. The BJP also failed at what it usually does best, grassroots organisation. The TMC workers were far more efficient in scrutinising voter lists and adding names.
Rahul Gandhi recently unfollowed some 50 people on Twitter, including prominent journalists such as Rajdeep Sardesai, Barkha Dutt and Nidhi Razdan. It is suspected that the decision was taken not by Gandhi himself but someone who was recently appointed to handle the Congress leader’s Twitter account and prides himself on championing the aam janata rather than the elite. Significantly even Nikhil Alva from Gandhi’s media cell was unfollowed, strengthening suspicion that a rival is in charge. Jyotiraditya Scindia, once Gandhi’s close friend, is also on the list of those dropped. On Rajiv Gandhi’s death anniversary, Scindia tweeted on his former friend’s father, describing him as the architect of modern India. He later deleted the tweet and toned down his homage. His omission may be at Gandhi’s own initiative.